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Pac-12 Football: Early 2022 QB Preview and Rankings

Cameron Rising, Utah Utes Football

College football's 2022 season is still months away, but spring practice is just around the corner, and it’s time to take a look at quarterback play in the Pac-12. With the bulk of the transfer movement and National Signing Day in the books, most of the 131 programs at the FBS level have a good idea of how their roster is going to look this season. The quarterback position is always under the spotlight, but the transfer portal has added another avenue for teams to quickly improve a struggling signal-caller or find the right option.

The Pac-12 is usually home to standout quarterback play and dynamic offenses, and there are many reasons to expect that trend to continue this fall. USC’s high-powered offense under new coach Lincoln Riley features one of the nation’s top signal-callers in Caleb Williams. Also, Cameron Rising is back at Utah, Dorian Thompson-Robinson returns at UCLA, and Washington State is adding an intriguing transfer in Cameron Ward from Incarnate Word. Oregon State's Chance Nolan and Arizona's Jayden de Laura headline a strong middle tier of quarterbacks in the conference.

With spring practice quickly approaching, Athlon Sports will examine the quarterback situations for the Power 5 conferences and how the outlook has changed from '21. Here's a look at the Pac-12 for '22:

Pac-12 Football: Early 2022 QB Preview and Rankings

North Division

California

Projected 2022 Starter: Jack Plummer
Chase Garbers departed Berkeley for the NFL, leaving a wide-open battle between Plummer, Zach Johnson and Kai Millner this spring. Plummer threw for 3,405 yards and 26 touchdowns over 17 games with the Boilermakers and is the early favorite to take the first snap.
Key Spring Storylines: Plummer is favored to open the year as the No. 1 quarterback, but Johnson and Millner will have an opportunity to unseat him this offseason.

Oregon

Projected 2022 Starter: Bo Nix
Nix had an up-and-down career at Auburn, but a fresh start on the West Coast under a familiar offensive coordinator (Kenny Dillingham) might be a good way to reboot his career. Over 34 games with the Tigers, Nix completed 59.4 percent of his throws for 7,251 yards and 39 touchdowns to 16 picks. He also added 869 yards and 18 scores on the ground.
Key Spring Storylines: Nix’s experience and familiarity give him an inside track at No. 1. However, talented redshirt freshman Ty Thompson is waiting in the wings. Will Thompson eventually push for the job?

Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2022

Oregon State

Projected 2022 Starter: Chance Nolan
The Beavers ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in pass attempts a game (26.7), but Nolan made the most of his opportunities. The junior college transfer finished second among Pac-12 signal-callers in quarterback rating (148.3) and yards per attempt (8.4). He also connected 64.2 percent of his passes for 19 scores through the air and added 286 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Key Spring Storylines: After a solid first full year as the starter, Nolan is once again favored to take the first snap for the Beavers. However, Tristan Gebbia and Ben Gulbranson are back after missing ’21 due to injury, so there will be competition for the top spot.

Stanford

Projected 2022 Starter: Tanner McKee
McKee is one of the building blocks for Stanford to rebound after a 3-9 record in ’21. The California native played in 10 contests (with nine starts) last season and threw for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns, which included a 230-yard and three-touchdown performance in an upset over Oregon.
Key Spring Storylines: McKee can certainly improve, and the talent is there to help Stanford’s offense take a big step forward after averaging only 20.4 points a game last year. Coach David Shaw needs to put the offense on his right arm in '22.

Washington

Projected 2022 Starter: Michael Penix Jr.
Penix is listed as the favorite here, but it’s a three-man competition with Dylan Morris and Sam Huard battling for snaps. Penix – a transfer from Indiana – worked under new coach Kalen DeBoer in Bloomington in 2019. During that season, Penix posted career highs in yards per attempt (8.7) and completion percentage (68.8).
Key Spring Storylines: Penix’s familiarity with DeBoer might be enough in a close battle to win the job. However, both Morris and Huard should push for the top spot and keep it open well into the fall.

Related: Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25 for 2022

Washington State

Projected 2022 Starter: Cameron Ward
Ward is arguably one of the most intriguing quarterbacks for the 2022 season. The Texas native won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman at the FCS level for the ’21 spring season and threw for 4,658 yards and 47 scores in the fall. Also, his former head coach at Incarnate Word (Eric Morris) is now the offensive coordinator for the Cougars.
Key Spring Storylines: Ward has all of the talent and scheme in place to rank among the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks this year. How fast he transitions to the FBS level is the only question mark going into ’22.

South Division

Arizona

Projected 2022 Starter: Jayden de Laura
Arizona has dipped into the portal for help at quarterback in each of the last two offseasons under coach Jedd Fisch, but the carousel might end with the addition of de Laura. The Washington State transfer arrives in Tucson after throwing for 2,789 yards and 23 touchdowns to nine scores. De Laura connected on 17 throws of 30-plus yards and led all Pac-12 quarterbacks (conference-only games) with an 8.0 yards per attempt average.
Key Spring Storylines: De Laura can be one of the top-five quarterbacks in the Pac-12 this year. This offseason is all about meshing de Laura’s talents with Fisch’s scheme.

Related: Grading CFB's First-Year Head Coaches from 2021

Arizona State

Projected 2022 Starter: Paul Tyson
Arizona State's quarterback situation took an unexpected turn in mid-February. Jayden Daniels opted to enter the transfer portal, adding more uncertainty to a chaotic offseason in Tempe. Alabama transfer Paul Tyson is listed here as the favorite, but Trenton Bourguet will also be in the mix for the job.
Key Spring Storylines: Will the Sun Devils find a clear starter at quarterback this spring?

Related: 15 Potential Transfer Destinations for Jayden Daniels

Colorado

Projected 2022 Starter: Brendon Lewis
Improving an offense that averaged only 4.5 yards per play in Pac-12 games starts with Lewis in 2022. The Buffaloes need their sophomore quarterback to take a step forward after throwing for 1,540 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushing for 190 yards and two scores over 12 games in ’21. Lewis ranked 11th among qualified Pac-12 signal-callers with a quarterback rating of 118.8.
Key Spring Storylines: Can Lewis take a step forward in his development? Or will Colorado give an extended look to Tennessee transfer JT Shrout, who missed ’21 due to injury?

UCLA

Projected 2022 Starter: Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Thompson-Robinson opted in for an extra year of eligibility in ’22, which is good news for UCLA after the Nevada native is coming off arguably his best all-around season. Over 11 appearances, Thompson-Robinson accounted for 2,409 yards through the air and 609 on the ground and collected 30 overall scores.
Key Spring Storylines: Thompson-Robinson’s supporting cast at receiver and along the offensive line will look a little different in ’22, but he should be able to build off a solid ’21 campaign to once again rank among the top signal-callers in the conference.

USC

Projected 2022 Starter: Caleb Williams
The arrival of Williams from Oklahoma helped new coach Lincoln Riley solidify USC as arguably the top transfer class in college football for the 2022 season. Williams replaced Spencer Rattler as the starter in Norman midway through ’21 and finished with 1,912 passing yards and 21 touchdowns while adding 435 yards and six scores on the ground. He also tied for the Big 12 lead in yards per attempt (9.1) and averaged 8.1 yards per play.
Key Spring Storylines: Williams hasn’t started a full season yet, but he’s among the top quarterbacks in college football. His arrival should help the Trojans push Utah and Oregon for the Pac-12 title.

Related: 5 Priorities for New USC Coach Lincoln Riley in 2022

Utah

Projected 2022 Starter: Cameron Rising
Utah’s quarterback switch from Charlie Brewer to Rising paid big-time dividends last season. Rising helped the Utes rally from a 1-2 start to win the Pac-12, throwing for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns in the process. The Texas transfer chipped in 499 yards and six scores on the ground and also ranked third among Pac-12 signal-callers in quarterback rating (146.7).
Key Spring Storylines: Rising earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season and should be even better in ’22.

Pre-Spring, Way-too-Early Pac-12 QB Rankings for 2022

1. Caleb Williams, USC
Williams reuniting with Lincoln Riley should give USC one of the most explosive offenses in college football next year.

2. Cameron Rising, Utah
Provided a much-needed boost to the offense after a slow start in ’21. Rising ranked second among Pac-12 QBs by averaging 7.6 yards per play last fall.

3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
The Bruins need a big year from Thompson-Robinson to push USC and Utah in the Pac-12 South.

4. Cameron Ward, Washington State
Ward posted huge numbers at the FCS level and has a familiar face calling the plays on offense in ’22. There’s some uncertainty here but a lot of upside.

5. Jayden de Laura, Arizona
De Laura is a huge get for coach Jedd Fisch’s rebuilding effort at Arizona.

6. Tanner McKee, Stanford
There’s a good chance McKee finishes a lot higher on this list by December.

7. Chance Nolan, Oregon State
Nolan likely needs to shoulder more of the offensive load with running back B.J. Baylor off to the NFL.

8. Bo Nix, Oregon
A fresh start will help Nix, but Ty Thompson’s development is worth watching. Nix is higher on this list if we know he's the starter.

9. Michael Penix Jr., Washington
Penix’s familiarity with new coach Kalen DeBoer is huge, but the former Indiana signal-caller has to prove he can stay healthy.

10. Jack Plummer, California
The Golden Bears have a wide-open battle at QB this offseason.

11. Brendon Lewis, Colorado
Can new play-caller Mike Sanford help jump-start Colorado’s offense?

12. Paul Tyson, Arizona State
Jayden Daniels' decision to transfer leaves a wide-open battle in Tempe this spring.

Podcast: Complete Breakdown of the Biggest Impact Transfer QBs on the 2022 College Football Season